Do you ever have a song pop into your head and get stuck there? Sometimes last week “Mockingbird Hill” came to me from out of the blue. It had been years, maybe even decades since I’d heard the song, yet I remembered most of the tune, and fragments of the lyrics, but only fragments. I thought about looking up who sang it, and perhaps the lyrics that I couldn’t remember, but hadn’t gotten around to it when I heard the news of the horrible shooting at the synagogue in Pittsburg. There are not words to express all that I felt upon hearing the news. I still cannot find a way to say something about it, yet I feel compelled to do so, of how it brought back memories of when I felt a similar sadness.
I grew up in a small town in Alabama, and knew only one Jew, the husband of a dear family friend, so dear that I always called them Aunt Grace and Uncle Leonard. When I was a teenager we moved to Montgomery. In the large high school that I attended I made many new friends, some of them Jewish. One morning, as I walked down the walkway to the school I was handed a pamphlet, which I stuck in my books without looking at it. When I took my seat in homeroom, I realized that the girl in front of me was crying. Our teacher asked if any of us had also gotten the pamphlet, then walked up and down the rows collecting them before most of us could read them. She tore the papers as she disposed of them saying “I’ll not have such anti-Semetic trash in this room.” It was my first exposure to anything of that kind. Why would someone hate anyone because they were Jewish? It made no sense to me, but I knew this was very hurtful to my friend in front of me, in a way I couldn’t imagine.
In 2008 a fatal shooting occurred in a Tennessee church that I had visited. Until then I had never been concerned about my safety. In my home church, I sat near the back, across from the doors leading into the sanctuary. For many months following the shooting, when someone unknown to me entered those doors, I became anxious, even fearful at times. Gradually that fear went away, but hearing the recent news has been unsettling. Even more disturbing has been the suggestion that we need armed guards at the places where we worship, our sacred spaces. If we are not safe there, where?
I was thinking about all this when the song popped into my head again Sunday afternoon. The fragment of the lyric that I hadn’t remembered until then: "…there’s peace and good will. You’re welcome as the flowers on Mockingbird Hill.”
Would that it could be so – that we could make our country a place of peace and good will where people are welcome, as welcome as the flowers on Mockingbird Hill.